Nurse Saves Life of Injured Motorcycle Officer
July 20, 2011
CARY, NC – Traffic was thick but fluid Friday evening when Jessica Elliott saw a Cary motorcycle police officer accelerate toward the Morrisville-Carpenter Road and N.C. 55 intersection.
From three cars back, Elliott in her GMC pickup saw his life flash before her eyes in a blink.
As Officer Chad Penland sped through the intersection with sirens and lights blaring, a white pickup traveling the opposite direction turned left in front of him, she said.
The officer hit the side of the pickup face-first, was ejected from his bike, and flew 20 to 30 feet over the truck’s bed.
“I didn’t expect him to be alive after I saw what happened,” Elliott said in a phone interview Saturday. “He flipped up in the air and landed hard.”
Elliott, 37, of Lynchburg, Va., travels to North Carolina two or three times a year to visit family in Cary. She knows that traffic on Interstate 40 is heavy at rush hour, so Friday she took N.C. 55 to avoid it.
Her decision helped save Penland’s life.
Elliott, a registered nurse with 14 years experience at hospitals who is now at Hargrave Military Academy, didn’t hesitate.
She stopped her car, told her 2-year-old daughter to stay put, called 911, and ran into the road where the officer lay bloody and bruised.
“He never lost consciousness, he was just rolling around in pain,” Elliott said. “He was losing a lot of blood.”
Penland’s helmet stayed on his head, but she feared the worst. He was choking on his blood, she said.
“His airway wasn’t stable. He didn’t have an airway. He had lots of injuries to his jaw,” she said.
“He was in bad shape, really bad shape.”
Elliott said she helped him breathe by gently rolling him over so he could clear his throat. Gasoline leaked from the motorcycle.
The two stayed together, Elliott coaching the officer through his breathing.
“He asked me if he was going to die. I told him no, that we’d get through it,” she said.
Emergency medical responders arrived within minutes, Elliott said.
This weekend, Penland, 32, remained at Duke Hospital. Little information has been released about his condition. Cary spokeswoman Deanna Boone said Saturday night that he suffers from serious, non-life-threatening injuries that weren’t disclosed.
He has been with the Cary Police Department since 2003. Cary police turned investigation of the collision over to the State Highway Patrol.
The SHP identified the driver of the Dodge pickup as Benjamin Rainey, 72, of Cary. Trooper A.R. El-Amin said other details of the accident would be released later.
Elliott said Penland’s injuries were perhaps the worst she’d ever seen.
“It’s amazing that he wasn’t paralyzed or killed,” she said. “… I thought he was going to die.”
Elliott said she found little rest Friday night. The image of the injured officer stares at her when she closes her eyes.
She was back home in Lynchburg on Saturday night, thinking about the unusual circumstances that led her to the accident.
She said she never drives N.C. 55 to her brother’s house. She almost always takes I-40.
Thirty years ago, Elliott was in the car when her father, a Virginia state police officer, witnessed another motorcyclist crashing into a car. Elliott, then 7, remembers watching as her father aided the motorcyclist, who had broken his jaw and couldn’t breathe.
She said her father received an award from the Red Cross for saving the man’s life. But Elliott said she’s not a hero.
She said she just hopes people will pause and think about the odd circumstances that saved a police officer who works 130 miles away from her home.
“I don’t know what your faith is,” she said. “But I believe I was where I was for a reason.”